Monday, February 15, 2010


The Song: "Up, Up and Away"
The Singers: The 5th Dimension
The Songwriter: Jimmy Webb

So I'm playing a game called Songburst, wherein you compete against your friends by completing song lyrics. The words are printed on cards which, half the time, give you the wrong year, despite the fact that the correct year is printed on the bottom in really small type in the copyright data. Anyway, I was protesting one of the card's assertion as to how many times the word "balloon" actually appears in the refrain of The 5th Dimension's classic "Up, Up and Away" when I came to a bold realization: "Man, this is a stupid song." Don't misunderstand; I actually kind of like the song, in the way that I enjoy a number of cheesy things. But it's pretty stupid.

(Incidentally, you really must watch the video linked above. I'm not sure if it's more awesome because the costumes are so silly, because they're clearly lip-synching but still have to share microphones, or because the director insists on framing them so that they only fill the bottom half of the screen. It's as though the set designer told him, "I had better see all those giant dots I built, or I will kill you.")

Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
We could float among the stars together, you and I
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon

Brace yourself, folks, because this is pretty much the whole song. If they ever try to make a Mamma Mia-style musical consisting entirely of 5th Dimension songs, this will not be one of the tunes that "advances the plot". It's pretty much: I got a balloon, it's cool, let's ride. Perhaps it will be a seduction scene. A very easy-listening, unsexy seduction scene.

The Songfacts website, which purports to give you facts about songs, contains this gem about this particular tune: "This song, more than any other, is associated with hot air ballooning." Thanks, Songfacts. Way to do your homework there.

The world's a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon

It wears a nicer face?

It is almost a truism that white people will always end up trying to sound more black, rather than vice-versa. Proving a bold exception to the rule is The 5th Dimension, a group that boldly stands alongside The Carpenters and The New Christy Minstrels as purveyors of some of the whitest music ever produced. And I say this as a really, really white person. This is mean, what I'm about to say, and I'm just about positive that it isn't true and probably slanderous, but when I listen to The 5th Dimension, I feel like they absolutely would have played Sun City. You wonder how a group like this could happen. Did an all-Motown station accidentally play the Mitch Miller Singers, and these five people exclaimed, "What is that magnificent sound?"

Suspended under a twilight canopy
We'll search the clouds for a star to guide us
If by some chance you find yourself loving me
We'll find a cloud to hide us
We'll keep the moon beside us

Our songwriter here is Jimmy Webb, who is renowned for his, shall we say, unique approach to storytelling in song. Here, I'll give you the titles of a few of his little pop music symphonies and let you do the math -- "Galveston", "Wichita Lineman", and of course, God help me, "MacArthur Park". Yes, the same person responsible for "Someone left the cake out in the rain" also churned out this salute to hot-air ballooning. It all makes sense, really.

Love is waiting there in my beautiful balloon
Way up in the air in my beautiful balloon
If you'll hold my hand we'll chase your dream across the sky
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon
Up, up, and away.....

Fun Fact: "Up, Up and Away" won the Grammy for 1967 Record of the Year. That's right. Out of all the music that debuted in that pivotal year, this was the best of the bunch. Here's just a handful of the tunes it was judged superior to:

"I'm a Believer" - The Monkees
"Tell It Like It Is" - Aaron Neville
"Standing in the Shadows of Love" - Four Tops
"Ruby Tuesday" - The Rolling Stones
"Mellow Yellow" - Donovan
"Gimme Some Lovin'" - The Spencer Davis Group
"Happy Together" - The Turtles
"There's a Kind of Hush" - Herman's Hermits
"For What It's Worth" - Buffalo Springfield
"Groovin'" - The Young Rascals
"Respect" - Aretha Franklin
"Windy" - The Association
"Can't Take My Eyes off You" - Frankie Valli
"Light My Fire" - The Doors
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" - Procol Harum
"I Was Made to Love Her" - Stevie Wonder
"White Rabbit" - Jefferson Airplane
"Reflections" - Diana Ross & the Supremes
"The Letter" - Box Tops
"Higher and Higher" - Jackie Wilson
"Brown Eyed Girl" - Van Morrison
"Gimme Little Sign" - Brenton Wood
"Soul Man" - Sam and Dave
"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" - Aretha Franklin
"I Say a Little Prayer" - Dionne Warwick
"I Can See for Miles" - The Who
"I Second That Emotion" - Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
"Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)" - John Fred & His Playboy Band
"Chain of Fools" - Aretha Franklin
"All You Need Is Love" - The Beatles

Think about it. To be better than all those songs? My gosh. I mean, you know what it is? It's humbling.

Yeah, right. Here were the songs actually nominated for the award:

"By the Time I Get to Phoenix" - Glen Campbell (Jimmy Webb!)
"My Cup Runneth Over" - Ed Ames
"Ode to Billie Joe" - Bobbie Gentry
"Somethin' Stupid" - Nancy Sinatra & Frank Sinatra I've never even heard of "My Cup Runneth Over." But no matter. The next time someone tells you the Grammys have become irrelevant, you say, "What do you mean, become?"

Additional Fun Fact: Dimension-ette Marilyn McCoo would later go on to co-host Solid Gold, the America's Best Dance Crew of the early 80s. The Solid Gold Dancers would, of course, go on to do lots and lots of cocaine.